“Galileo to Laudato Si’: Why Astronomy Needs Faith” – Mon 9 Nov 2020

Vatican astronomer Bro Guy Consolmagno, Director of the Vatican  Observatory – Specola Vaticana, joined us by Zoom from Tucson, Arizona to talk on the harmonious relationship between science and religion. 

  Bro Guy argued that logic and reason must always start with assumptions, and the assumptions behind science are, at their root, religious assumptions. Our core beliefs not only determine how we expect the universe to work; they supply the motivation for the science we do, and determine why we choose to look at the stars. How we understand this relationship has changed radically from the time of Galileo, when science was still being invented; and that change continues to this day, as can be seen in the way Pope Francis has blended science and faith in his recent encyclical Laudato Si

Bro Guy Consolmagno, Director of Vatican Observatory

Modern science required three fundamental shifts which were just beginning in Galileo’s day:
> discard the Golden age mentality (the ancients knew more than us, knowledge has faded)
> use of instruments in discovery
> abandon attempt to seek deductive proof of scientific facts, instead accept probable cause, to be improved on by scientists of the future .

Bro Guy was a most attentive host when Cork Astronomy Club members visited the Vatican  Observatory at Castel Gandolfo in 2019.  He has family connections in Cork and we look forward to welcoming him back here in what we hope will be the not too distant future.

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“Mars, a Cosmic Stepping Stone” – Mon 12 Oct 2020, 8pm

To coincide with the Mars opposition Kevin Nolan gave a talk on past, present and near-term future Mars exploration. What have we learnt, what can we hope to learn? Looked at the present and continuing unmanned program for Mars which commenced in 1996 with Pathfinder and will continue into the future at least until a sample return mission in 2031 – and surely beyond. Kevin’s passion for the subject and the ease with which he presented so much technical information drew widespread praise from the 90 people in this Zoom call.

Kevin is the author of Mars, A Cosmic Stepping Stone: Uncovering Humanity’s Cosmic Context (2009), a volunteer for The Planetary Society in Ireland, and lectures in Physics at the Technical University Dublin.

Kevin Nolan, author of “Mars a Cosmic Stepping Stone”

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“Observing and photographing the Moon” – Mon 14 Sep 2020

Opening our new season of public online lectures, Frances McCarthy and Danielle Wilcox of Blackrock Castle Observatory’s outreach team talked about observing and photographing the night sky’s largest and most changeable object, the Moon.

Frances McCarthy (left) and Danielle Wilcox (right) of Blackrock Castle Observatory’s outreach team

We learnt that the word “moon” is connected with words for to measure, reflecting the fact that from earliest times the Moon’s phases have been used as a calendar.  The moon illusion when the moon is near the horizon is well known, and it seems that it’s perceived especially by children.  We heard about the startling difference between the near and far sides of the Moon and possible reasons for this, as well as a hypothesis that the Moon’s tidal lock, which dictates that we always see the same side, may have occurred not over millions of years, but in the course of a single year.

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Lecture Schedule 2020-21

Our 2020/21 season of public lectures was held remotely using Zoom.

The centre piece of each meeting was a lecture by an invited guest. Monthly meetings also included a briefing on what to look for in the sky that month and club announcements.

Mon 14th Sept 2020   “Observing and photographing the Moon”─ Frances McCarthy & Danielle Wilcox,  Blackrock Castle Observatory Outreach Team.

Mon 12th Oct 2020   “Mars, a Cosmic Stepping Stone” ─   Kevin Nolan, Author of Mars, A Cosmic Stepping Stone: Uncovering Humanity’s Cosmic Context (2009).

Mon 26th Oct 2020Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford will give a talk on “Pulsars, magnetars and fast radio bursts” Zoom link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86442149554

Mon 9th Nov 2020  “Galileo to Laudato Si: Why Astronomy Needs Faith”Bro Guy Consolmagno, Director Vatican Observatory

Mon 7th Dec 2020 “New Strategies in the Search for E.T.” by Dr Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at SETI Institute

Mon 11th Jan 2021  – British cosmologist, astrophysicist, and Astronomer Royal Martin Rees on “Our Future in Space”

Mon 8th Feb 2021 Professor Emma Bunce will give a talk by Zoom on the “The Voyager Mission to the Solar System and Beyond”. Current President of the Royal Astronomical Society, Head of University of Leicester’s Physics and Astronomy School.

Mon 8th Mar 2020  –   “Vera C. Rubin Observatory: The Universe in Action – Coming Soon” – Amanda Bauer, Rubin Observatory head of outreach

Mon 12th April 2021  Prof David Malone, Maynooth University, “How to tell the time”

Mon 10th May 2021  – “William Lassell 1799 – 1880, Telescopes, Planets and Drinking Beer” – Gerard Gilligan, Society for History of Astronomy

Mon 21st June 20201 – electronics engineer Cillian O’Driscoll on “How satellites revolutionised how we navigate – and tell the time”

“Ireland’s Place in Space” – Mon 6 Apr 2020, 8pm

Lecture cancelled due to coronavirus. Was scheduled for April 2020. ESA engineer Con McCarthy will describe the parts played by Irish companies ─ especially the local ones ─ in designing systems for and providing services to the European Space Agency.  The date is Mon 6th Apr 2020 at 8 pm, and the venue is UCC.   Please arrive 10 minutes early, or if you wish to join, then ideally at 7.40 if you can.

Con worked as an ESA engineer for more than 30 years,  his jobs there including  –

  • project manager for Mars Express Lander, arrived Mars 2003
  • systems engineer for Huygens, landed on Titan January 2005, which is still the most distant landing of any man made object
  • systems engineer Venus Express, launched 2005

and he also contributed to

  • Spacelab, the first European crewed space vehicle, 22 missions up to 1998
  • Earth Resources Satellite 1, the first earth observation satellite to monitor the surface via radar instead of optics giving it an all weather capability
  • Exomars, due for launch July 2020

Con is a member of our Club.

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Photo shows Con (right) with Russian cosmonaut the late Alexi Leonov, the first man to walk in space when in 1965 he exited the Voskhod capsule.  Photo dates from around 2015.

“V1 – The star that changed the Universe” – no date yet

Lecture cancelled due to coronavirus. Was scheduled for March 2020 Coming soon, we hope – prominent amateur astronomer Tony O’Hanlon will tell how observation of single star was to change how we saw the Universe, and relegated our Milky Way to just one of billions of objects. This lecture was originally scheduled for 9th March 2020. Meeting cancelled due to coronavirus situation in Cork while we await HSE guidance.

As recent as the early 1920’s, we believed the entire Universe consisted of what we called the Milky Way.  Some astronomers of the day believed it was much larger, but how to prove it was a huge mathematical and observational problem and much debate ensued.  Edwin Hubble, after whom the Hubble Space Telescope was named, then made a key discovery from his observations of a single star. It changed how we saw the Universe. Our understanding that our Milky Way is just one of billions of objects can be traced back to Hubble’s discovery.  In this talk, Tony will tell its story.

Tony is a member and co-founder of Limerick Astronomy Club, and a former V.P. of the Irish Astronomical Association.  His passions lie in deep sky objects and providing astronomy outreach.    

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Tony O’Hanlon

New members morning – Sat 19 Oct, 11 – 1

Our annual new members morning is at Blackrock Castle from 11 am – 1 pm on Saturday 19th October.  This is a members only event (but you can join at the door). “New member” can be interpreted flexibly. If you would like to know more about how the Club works and chat informally to committee members, then this event is for you.

Drop in, meet the committee and fellow new members.  Find out about the Club’s activities & getting the most from your membership.      Tea & scones from Blackrock Castle’s excellent café.      

Here you can find out about the monthly observers group meetings, how to get on the alert list for weather-dependent observing sessions, and how to get advice on buying a telescope. Find out about the workshop programme and make your own suggestions for topics you would like included. Discover our field trips, the annual outing, and social events, and let us know what you hope to get from your Club membership. We are always open to consider new activities.

Blackrock Castle
Blackrock Castle Observatory. The New members morning is held in the classroom on the left.

“The mysteries of Black Holes, large and small” – Mon 10 Feb 2020, 8pm

For our February lecture, UCC Professor of Physics and Astronomy Dr Paul Callanan talked about those mysterious and exotic objects so fundamental to astronomy, black holes.    The date was 10th Feb 2020.

Understanding the nature of black holes remains one of the great challenges of modern astronomy.

More than 100 years ago, Einstein produced a remarkable theory which could be used predict the basic properties of black holes, but it was only last year, in 2019,  when we finally got a glimpse of what a black hole really looks like. Paul explored what we know about black holes, and what the most recent observations tell us about them.

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Prof Paul Callanan, UCC
Prof Paul Callanan, UCC

“Back to the Future: Celestial Navigation for Ocean Positioning” – Mon 13 Jan 2020

At our January lecture, Master Mariner and nautical science lecturer Bill Kavanagh demonstrated his sextant. We learnt how traditional methods were used to obtain a ship’s position by observing astronomical objects, and how such methods are being used again today in an era of global navigation satellite systems.  GPS and other satellite navigation systems (including the not yet operational European Galileo system) are accurate, but subject to human error and malfunction. For 20 years the US navy and coastguard abandoned celestial navigation training for officers, but have now reinstated it – recognizing that the Sun and stars will never be disabled by solar flares, and can’t be shot down.

Bill is a committee member of Cork Astronomy Club and also lectures in the National Maritime College of Ireland at Ringaskiddy. After a 20-year career at sea including 8 years in command, he moved ashore to start a new career in education and training. He currently lectures and co-ordinates the award year of the BSc honours degree in nautical science, and is an adjunct lecturer in research methods with Jade University of Applied Sciences, Oldenberg, Germany. While at sea, he navigated the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans using celestial navigation techniques. 

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Bill Kavanagh
Bill Kavanagh

“Space Law: Weapons, Property Rights and Mining in Space” – 14 Oct 2019

Barrister Laura Keogh, a specialist in space law, gave an overview of space law and then focused on weaponisation and the legality of owning asteroids.    

LauraShe began by outlining the framework of international space law, starting with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which forms the basic framework, and then identified three challenges for space law – militarisation, space mining, and colonising Mars.   Space has been militarised since the very start of the space age, but what weapons are allowed? Nukes are definitely banned and so are weapons of mass destruction – but what are those?  A US act of 2015 says citizens can own asteroid resources, but is this legal in international law? 

If Mars is colonised, will it be a state and what are the implications of that?  The meeting broke into groups to discuss how a Mars state would cope with a refugee problem from Earth, giving rise to some daunting proposals.

Laura has campaigned, thus far without success, that Ireland should be represented at the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).  This will become more urgent with the launch next year of Ireland’s first satellite, Eirsat1. She works for MHL- Law dealing with space sector clients and data protection issues.  

Laura Keogh
Laura Keogh, Barrister